An occasional message from Peter Dreier

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
An occasional message from Peter Dreier  

“Shut Down the Merchants of Death,”  In this article in The Nation magazine,  Donald Cohen and I report  on the  growing divestment campaign against gun makers. We describe how union pension funds, university endowments, government weapons buyers (like local and state police), even high school students, are taking action – through boycotts and divestment – to pressure gun makers and retailers to stop selling military style assault weapons to civilians, a major cause of the epidemic of gun violence in America.  By taking aim at the gun makers and sellers, people are adding another weapon in the movement arsenal to fight these "merchants of death," who profit from the proliferation of guns and the killing of innocent victims.

“Wayne LaPierre Does Not Speak For Most Gun Owners or NRA Members,”   Divestment is one strategy for challenging the gun makers and gun sellers, whose key lobby group is the National Rifle Association. In this Huffington Post article, I explain why the NRA’s leaders are out of sync with most gun owners in general and even NRA members on many key issues regarding limits on gun sales.  In fact, the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre is even out of sync with himself. In 1999, he testified before Congress in favor of comprehensive background checks for gun owners. Now, LaPierre views such checks as an outrageous violation of the Second Amendment.

“The NRA’s Favorite Congressmen”   Big surprise! The most heavily NRA-backed congressman are leading the charge against new gun violence prevention measures. Josh Israel of Think Progress provides the details.

"The Family and Medical Leave Act and Its Enemies"  In 1993, before Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, business lobbies including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business had successfully defeated family leave bills in Congress for almost a decade. They predicted the worst, calling it a job killer, an assault on freedom, and an unnecessary government intrusion since businesses know what’s best for their workers. In this article for Frying Pan News, Donald Cohen celebrates the law's 20th anniversary, documents that the business lobby groups were "crying wolf."  California and New Jersey have taken the extra step to create paid family leave laws so workers don’t have to choose between getting paid and taking family medical leave. Business groups claimed that these laws, too, would hurt business and destroy the economy. As Cohen shows, they were "crying wolf" again. It is time to enact universal paid family and medical leave and stop listening to the phony claims of business lobby groups.

"Henry Wallace: America's Forgotten Visionary"   What if Henry Wallace – FDR’s one-time Vice President (1941-44) -- had become president when Roosevelt died? He'd have been the most radical President in American history.  And American history – the Cold War, the arms race, civil rights, and women’s rights – might have been very different. The story of Wallace’s rise and fall is fascinating, but largely forgotten. Here's my tribute to this remarkable public figure, published in Truthout.

"Rosa Parks: Angry, Not Tired"   February 4 was the 100th anniversary of Rosa Parks' birth. The popular legend about her – and the Montgomery bus boycott --  is misleading, and thus distorts what it takes to bring about significant change. Parks was a lifelong activist with a fierce commitment to racial justice.  The boycott was a remarkable organizing accomplishment that had been discussed by Montgomery activists for a long time before Parks refused to budge from the bus.  This article is my tribute to Parks and the Montgomery movement, published in Huffington Post.

"Eleanor: The Radical Roosevelt"  Eleanor Roosevelt was a bold progressive and a remarkable woman who defied many stereotypes. No Hollywood film, including the currently-played Hyde Park on Hudson, has accurately depicted the depth and influence of her radicalism. In this article for Yes magazine, I pay tribute to her many accomplishments.

“The Great Divergence” In this article in the New York Times Magazine (January 20), Adam Davidson lays out the debate among economists about why the U.S. has such a huge income gap, but it ends on a wrong note. He points out that economists disagree about “which policy is the right one” to address our widening inequality, but then he asks “What do we value more: growth or fairness?” This is a false choice. There is no contradiction between economic growth and economic equality. The U.S. experienced its most sustained and rapid growth during the three decades following World War 2, a period that also saw a dramatic increase in the overall standard of living and a sharp decline in income equality. Likewise, many other affluent nations – including Germany and the Scandinavian countries – have much less inequality than the United States, a higher quality of life and living standard for its typical working family, and faster growth. Indeed, the same day that Davidson’s article appeared in the magazine, economist Joseph Stiglitz’s essay, “Inequality Is Holding Back Recovery,” showed up in the Times’ Sunday Review section. Stiglitz  reminds us that fixing the economy and addressing the new Gilded Age income/wealth gap are not mutually exclusive, but go hand-in-hand. Obama echoed this view in his Inaugural Address. In "Does Inequality Stifle or Promote Growth?"  Jared Bernstein weighs in on the debate about inequality and growth. Too bad he and Stiglitz are not on the Council of Economic Advisors to challenge the business-oriented folks advising the president. 

"Get a Union, Get a Ticket to the Middle Class"    Unions created America's mass middle class. Business' attack on unions is why our middle class is shrinking, wages are stagnating, more Americans are in debt, and the economic recovery is so slow.  In this article, the AFL-CIO provides some basic facts to back up these statements.

"The Real Reason for the Decline of American Unions"  How do we explain that Canada has a much higher level of unionization than the United States?  This Bloomberg News article was prompted by new statistics showing that union membership in the U.S. is now at a 100-year low.  In fact, American workers are not anti-union, but the nation's labor laws are. The three major reasons for America's low unionization rate: (1) labor-management laws are pro-business and anti-union, and businesses can violate workers' rights w/o serious penalties; (2) export of manufacturing jobs by greedy global corporations taking advantage of one-sided tax breaks; and (3) shredding of government jobs by right wing politician

"Plug-In Volunteering Doesn't Cut It"  A provocative op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by USC sociologist Nina Eliasoph about the limits of "plug-in volunteering." It really is about the difference between charity and justice. It reminds me of a wonderful quote from Dr. King: "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."  High schools and colleges that promote "community service" should help students understand the difference between charity and justice.

My Talk at the AFL-CIO I was pleased to speak last week at AFL-CIO headquarters in DC about my new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.  The Machinist Union taped my talk and put these brief excerpts on its website.

The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Occidental College or its employees. Occidental College is not responsible for the content of this communication.